From Boatsheds to Battlefields 14 The Wanderlust

End of 13th Entry: Together with mountaineering, I took up cycling and on foot of bike searched the long wonderful coastline of the Cape Peninsula. The fairyland of Constantia…..

Mickey Osmond the son of a well known South African family had ample excuse for living in a world of dreams – in his veins ran some of the oldest blood of Ireland mixed with a strain of Holland and a dash of that of Sweden. Of his mixed ancestry, all seemed to have contributed something of the wanderlust and the love of strange company to him.

From earliest childhood, the boy had been reared on stories and in an atmosphere of sailing ships and wars. Africa was still in the making – Britain and Boer were at one another’s throats in the North – The Union of South Africa existed only in a few dreamers minds of Natal and Cape Colony were self-governing Colonies of Britain. The Transvaal and the Orange Free State Independent Republics at war with England.

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Table Bay lay crowded with shipping – a day before the youngster had counted a hundred and sixty vessels, steam and sail lying in the roadstead and out beyond the breakwater. Cape Town was filled with troops from all dependencies of the English Crown. It was indeed a goodly time for a boy to be born and bred – the closing scenes of the Old World.

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Away in the North lay a vast unexplored world where a few pioneers were hacking out the road for civilization – marvelous stories of the findings of ancient cities of a vanished race – gold discoveries which made the recent Klondyke strikes fade into insignificance – of innumerable herds of elephant and great races of savage warriors.

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Only three years before the youngster had witnessed a parade of troops returned from the smashing of the Matabele armies – it was the Queen of England’s birthday and on the square, regiments of soldiers in their red tunics and dark trousers, their white helmets spiked with brass, marched past that great man the Queen’s Governor of the Cape Colony. Squadrons of mounted troops in blue tunics and slouch felt hats wheeled and trotted into their places.

The Battle of Majuba hill - Anglo Boer War in South Africa

The Battle of Majuba Hill
Anglo Boer War in South Africa

Field Artillery rumbled past and as the “Feu de Joie” was fired great masses of smoke split by red flame rolled from the martinis and cannon. Since had been another native rebellion and gruesome stories of officers boiling the head of an executed chief to keep the skull as a regimental trophy – then had come the Boer War which was still raging and all the world appeared to be flocking into “The Old Tavern of the Seas.”


And tomorrow the story continues:

“Glancing at the crew the boy felt a thrill as he sensed how close reality was to fiction…”


From Boatsheds to Battlefields 13 To the Crags

End of 12th Entry: So passed four happy years of life spent in continual struggle with wind and wave and though always the mountain loomed in the background and often thought lingered on her cliffs and hovered over her hidden joys of heights ascended, glens explored no opportunity came to wrest them from the unknown, until I reached nearly sixteen.

At fourteen I began to be entrusted with the loan of goels (The Yiddish word for redemption) and to be sought after to take the tiller when surf broke heavily in our tiny cove. Also, I knew just where the fish were and what varieties to go after so more and more I left the canoes and went out from other bays with older fellows or gathered crews for boats I borrowed in the home-place. I found myself always sure of a place in any canoe which put out at times when I was short of hands or anxious for a spin. Gradually some of us began to get in with yachting men and to devote much of our time to sailing in racing craft in Table Bay.

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Then when near sixteen I made a chum of a boy of my own age whose people had come from suburbs lying inland against the mountain. What the sea was to me the mountain was to him and we began to compare the two. I took him out, taught him sea and fish love but always his heart clung to the Crags.

We began walks on the hillside, made a few ascents on Lion’s Head and did one or two cliffs and soon the glamour of the lonely places and the grandeur of the hills caught me so for a while the sea was left in the background and my eyes turned to and were held by the mountain.

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Together we climbed and explored, rent the treasure of flower and heath, faced wet and cold, sun and heat, mist and wind, cliff and crag and ever the fascination grew. Many an evening, many a night and many a day the two of us tramped the hillside, clamoured amongst the peaks and corries, drank at the crawling mountain burns. Often early hours found us perched on the roof of the world watching tiny white-winged craft skimming over the blue main where my old-time chums followed the old ways.

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But I was content. I loved the harsh naked rock walls, the deep gloomy wooded chasms, the wild crags of my new world. Crawling along the narrow ridges, an immensity of space below, a sheer unclimbable wall above; worming through natures chimneys carefully, painfully climbing rock corners, zigzagging a perilous way up some louring buttress I was ever filled with joy o’ life in feeling the thrill of adventure, of surmounting Death’s traps of playing with the grim enemy.

Together with mountaineering I took up cycling and on foot of bike searched the long wonderful coastline of the Cape Peninsula. The fairyland of Constantia – old world farmhouses, set in vineyards and orchards and woodland, clinging to hill and mountainside, backed by frowning cliff and wooded cleft, overhung by gigantic dark ramparts, broken with glen of silvery poplar, intersected with grove and thicket of fir and oak, looking down on blue lagoon and snow white strand with the deep azure of waters of the mountain-locked False Bay fringed with crested wave.

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From Boatsheds to Battlefields 12 Four Happy Years

End of 11th Entry: Our light canvas canoes, speedy easily handled and seaworthy dodged in and out of the channel when a heavy boat risked swamping ere she got full way on her and though often our canoes were capsized, now and again broken we all swum like fish and a most merciful providence invariably landed us no further hurt than bruises.

In the beginning, we were content with double-bladed paddles and fishing close inshore or paddling out into the midst of a fishing fleet on in-lying banks. Then one youth fitted his canoe with a pair of skulls and a rudder.

This enterprising individual now made his chum row whilst he steered and when need arose assisted his crew’s efforts with the original paddle. Other owners enthusiastically followed suit and as we were all keen on canoe building the new models were enlarged and widened more well given and space made for two oarsmen.

At this time the majority of us were in receipt of very tiny allowances seldom exceeding a shilling a week. The cost of material needed for a canoe was an obstacle requiring some ingenuity to surmount. We made however quite good money at fishing and material I blush to say came in ways which would have caused our relatives many a thrill of horror.

We required canvas – tarpaulin did splendidly – paint, ceiling boards for ribs, flooring boards for strips, good solid deal (pinewood) for keel shapes and bow and stern posts and in many a mysterious way they arrived. We never manifested any curiosity as to where our friends procured their necessities and most certainly we evaded all reference if any was made as to how we got ours.

But now we longed for swifter flight over the bosom of the Atlantic and sailing experiments came to the fore whereby our people were left puzzling over lost bedsheets and tablecloths though soon the money made fishing enabled us to have real sails, masts, booms and sprits made by sailmakers in town and we took our places as equals nay superiors in sea craft amongst fisherfolk.

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So passed four happy years of life spent in continual struggle with wind and wave and though always the mountain loomed in the background and often thought lingered on her cliffs and hovered over her hidden joys of heights ascended, glens explored no opportunity came to wrest them from the unknown until I reached nearly sixteen.

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From Boatsheds to Battlefields 11 A Beautiful Present

From 10th Entry: For long I had been a pet amongst them and often I had begged to put to sea and at last as they ran the boat into the water Jack, the skipper, shouted “Jump in Youngster!” and in a second I had tumbled into the stern sheets and was embarked on a great adventure.

Often I had ridden the rollers in imagination and pictured and felt in my mind the sensations of climbing the mighty rollers and rushing into their trough but now I found the reality far more wonderful and glorious than the wildest flights of dreamland had given me. Clambering into the bow I faced the breaking white horses, reveled in the salty twang and bite of the wind, caught my breath as a wanton wave smashed against the boat and buried me in foaming water and spray.

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A couple of miles out we threw anchor and soon the crew were busy with fishlines and great was my delight at hooking and hauling in a few mackerel. But soon the smell of old half rotten bait, the violent pitching, and rolling of the boat brought on violent seasickness. However, the bout did not last long and when eventually we hoisted anchor and set sail for shore I had given myself altogether to the sea. A year or two went by and I went out more and more often. Barely a Saturday, or holiday but I managed to evade authority and get out to sea or wandered along the coast.

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At twelve I entered the cadet corps and for a while took soldiering seriously for the Boer War was just ending. During the three previous years, I had seen and heard much of the rear lines of the fighting army. We were armed with old Martini-Henry carbines and often I smuggled mine out to sea with looted cartridges and practiced at seabirds, or hunted the mountainside for rare and strictly protected game.

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Then came the present of a beautiful decked canoe, a craft seaworthy, unsinkable and able to stand fairly heavy sea. Every moment I could now steal was devoted to fishing and most of the catches I found little difficulty in disposing of to buyers on the beach. Other youngsters now took up the life and in a year there were a dozen boys rivaling the fishermen at their own game and with the daring of boyhood faring forth in weather the men feared facing.

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Our light canvas canoes, speedy easily handled and seaworthy dodged in and out of the channel when a heavy boat risked swamping ere she got full way on her and though often our canoes were capsized, now and again broken we all swum like fish and a most merciful providence invariably landed us no further hurt than bruises.


From Boatsheds to Battlefields 10 In the Service of the Wild

Excerpt from 9th Entry: … bellowing a stream of Danish oaths Jansen with a tremendous twist of the steering oar sent the boat spinning round and as her bow came seawards……

I was ten years old when first I ventured into the open sea and from that morning I date my life begun in the service of the wild.

Well even now more than a score of years after do I remember the scene, a cold leaden day, the sea a vast expanse of white-crested breaking wavelets, the hills and mountains half hidden in swirling mist all – sea, mountain and town cheerless and chilled.

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Our Subcraft possessed a tiny torturous channel through the rocks into the open sea and in a barely sheltered cove stood half a dozen or less rough sheds of wood and iron in which were stored a few boats and a mass of sea gear – ropes, sails, oars, salt, stained clothing, fishing lines and nets – caves of Aladdin to imaginative boys soaked in romance of the sea.

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The owners and crews of these craft were ordinary townsmen to their friends but to us dauntless heroes in disguise. Often I laugh now at how we looked upon staid Lawyers and Clerks given to fishing and mild rowing and sailing as worthy fellows of Morgan, Kidd and Teach and how many a night we lay wondering whether they were running cargoes through the wild weather outside.

Devoutly we prayed that our stout policeman was not hidden near the sheds ready to lead forward a rush of sailors from whatever warship lay in the dock. Often I shivered and held my breath with horror as I pictured some particular hero who had let me carry fish or gear, being cut down by a cutlass wielded by some brawny salt and I always prayed that the smugglers would get away and drag with them our unfortunate constable whom I doomed to the plank, the stake and marooning on Robben Island.

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But if the amateur seafaring men were heroes, the crew of our one real fishing boat was of those admitted to the highest circle of the Elect. That they ventured to sea at night, went on to offices, lived in tiny huts on the mountain, craved all weathers, spoke a real jargon of the sea and looked prototypes of our book heroes – ragged bronzed hairy, burly, seafaring men stamped them to our minds as hell marked.

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From these men of the sea I had learned to splice and knot, to distinguish the rig of different craft which passed going in and out of the Bay and much of the life of the forecastle. Only three of the fishermen had been deepwater seamen but they ventured many a year in sailing ships and varied the life of the ocean with all manner of spells ashore. Today I think back but even now my thoughts of two are good thoughts and rough and wild as they brought very little of evil into our minds.

For long I had been a pet amongst them and often I had begged to put to sea and at last, as they ran the boat into the water Jack, the skipper, shouted “Jump in Youngster!” and in a second I had tumbled into the stern sheets and was embarked on a great adventure.

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From Boatsheds to Battlefields 9 Back to Shore

End of 8th Entry: The boat, however, was beginning to ship a lot of water and the weather was becoming wild and stormy. Again and again, curling waves broke against or over the boat until Jansen regretfully gave the order to haul up the anchor.

Pulling shoreward was no child’s play – the angry sea sucking the boat backward, gathered their strength and then with all their power hurled it flying down before them. Shipping the stroke Jansen bent both hands on the steering oar whilst the other three pulled steadily, half stopping, shooting half buried down a wall of water surrounded with flying stinging salt spray the gallant little boat drove homewards until a colossal mountain rose suddenly behind them.

“Hold Water” shrieked Jansen – “Pack all you know – Pack Boys! Pack like Hell.”

Straining might and muscle the crew checked the way of the boat and slowly began to move her sternwards.

Shipping the stroke oar Jansen his great and enormous strength to their aid – the boat rose higher higher higher – a huge threatening mass began to curl high over them – then just as every muscle seemed to be breaking the boat rose to an incredible height – a roaring avalanche seemed to break all about them, half filled with water yet still moving seawards the boat began to sink down the back of the Colossus – bellowing a stream of Danish oaths Jansen with a tremendous twist of the steering oar sent the boat spinning round and her bow came seawards.


From Boatsheds to Battlefields 8 Fishing Adventure

This post links to the opening of the book where Mick is waiting and hoping that the Danish Captain will go fishing.

Excerpt from the opening post: A couple of hours past, then the day began to break but with the coming of light the prospects of putting to sea appeared negligible. The wind was blowing strongly, and beyond the line of breakers, the Atlantic was a flecked mass of curling, breaking waves racing shoreward. Surf combers were immense and the narrow rocky channel was a churning mill-race.

The coloured crew of a fishing boat after a look at the sea began to swing their boxes of fishing tackle on their shoulders preparatory to moving off home. Mick to his disgust heard his skipper tell the crew that it was hopeless attempting to put out.

“If I vos get a crew I vos going mit mine pram.” said the Dane “I haf mine son Teedore and I want another two men.”

“Can I come Mr. Jansen?” asked Mickey eagerly.

“Yes you can come, Mickey, and Otto, he vas not frightened. No!” and the burly Scandinavian gave a huge roar of laughter.

A strongly built youth answered that he would go and amidst a number of warnings from others a queer-shaped Scandinavian boat was carried to the water.

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Though light enough to see, the night yet clung to the world helped by banks of dark cloud and grey mist piling and rolling over the sky and mountains, now and again came a drizzle of rain and the squalls of sea wind drove spray high from the waves.

As the boat was run into the water Mick jumped into the bow, Theodore Jansen and Otto went amidships. Old Jansen shipped a steering oar whaleboat fashion over the stern, shoving the stroke oar with one hand, whilst steering with the other. For a while the crew pulling gently held the boat head on to the breaking surf, keeping just floating distance off the shore. Whilst Jansen carefully watched the rollers breaking on an outlying point along the coast. The small crowd who had decided to stop ashore gathering at the water’s edge watching and shouting advice and warnings.

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Suddenly the Old Dane gave a wild yell, “Pull togedder Boys! All you can! Pull Boys Pull!’ Four backs bent double, stout ash handles bent and the light craft, her queer blunt nose high in the air went racing seawards rising to, and smashing over and through a dozen waves – rolling to cross-currents, and standing almost on her stern to crash over a wave crest, taking a curling breaker fair and square a cascade of spray and water over her crew.

Old Jansen his light blue eyes pinpoints of flame, his long mustache blowing past his face bellowed encouragement whilst his great hairy arms and chest bulged with iron lumps of muscle as he stood half steering and pushing. Mick and the others a red mist waving before their eyes, muscles cracking with strain bent forward and backward with every sinew, every nerve, every muscle concentrated to breaking point.

“Easy all!” yelled Jansen and four figures relaxed and looked shoreward. They were beyond the breaking point of the rollers, but the tiny boat seemed to have broken through one great peril to enter a score of others.

All around were thousands of angry waves rising sullenly but quickly to hang an instant, draw suddenly back; then rearing a foaming white crest drive forward and down in a roaring angry mass of foam and broken water. The rollers themselves were range upon range of mountains, up whose ridges the boat was drawn to hang dizzily an instant before dropping down to the depths, whilst rolling down on it would come another vast wall of grey water.

Mick felt his stomach rise and fall with the combers – one minute the tiny boat was high in the air, and from her whole foreshore to the very water’s edge could be seen – another minute and the craft lay deep in a ravine with a mountain leaving them and one bearing ominously down – over the departing hill all that could be seen being the swirling mist and clouds about the summit of Lion’s Head and Table Mountain.

A sharp order from Jansen brought the oars again into play and with an empty feeling, Mick bent to his work. For a while, the Old Viking held seawards then gave the commands to “Hold Water” and “Anchor”.

Being a good deal further out the swell was not so marked nor the sea as broken as in the surf line and Mick whose marrow had felt turned to water began to feel his spirits revive. Lines were soon down – each cast a light mackerel line a few yards away without a sinker and two heavy lines each with a large hook baited with a half Mackerel and loaded with heavy leaden sinkers were dropped overboard. Light lines were also put over and lowered to the ground in case any small fish such as Hottentot were about and these soon began to be busy.

The oval bronzed Hottentot fish weighing from one to six pounds biting freely. Now and again a small shoal of Mackerel or their cousins the Maasbanker gave a few exciting minutes, during which every hand was hauling in fish as hard as he could. After a while, Jansen ordered the mackerel lines in as the fish were practically unsaleable and more than could be used as bait had been caught.

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Suddenly one of Mick’s big lines began to tighten, quivering with anxiety he got hold and felt it sucking heavily from him – Jansen leaning forward shouted to him to give line slowly until the fish ran – all at once the line pulled strongly.

“Strike as hard as you can!” shouted Jansen and Mick obeying felt as though he was going out of the boat. With all his might and with all his strength the lad hauled at a heavy fighting monster. The sweat poured off him, the line cut into his hands but lost to everything but the mad joy of battle Mick brought his victim slowly but surely towards the surface, until with a swirl of backwash a great salmon like fish broke water.

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With all the power left in him, helped by the impetus of the fish’s dash Mick brought his quarry over the side and like a flash wrapped his legs around it. Holding on like grim death with one hand to the soft wire between hook and line Mick grasped a short heavy bludgeon handed him by Otto and smashed blow after blow on the shapely head. The powerful writhing struggling stilled and absolutely exhausted Mick hand over the thwart, whilst Theodore and Jansen both began to haul like men possessed away Mick’s other line began to move. Mick grabbed at it and once more every aching muscle was working.

Jansen and his son with their mighty arms hauled their fish rapidly to the service, stunned them outside the boat and lifted them in – Mick using the last atom of his strength just managing to swing his into the boat and fall on it. For a few minutes fish and Mick were mingled in a wild wrestling bout amidst roars of laughter from the Danes and Otto – then seeing an opportunity Otto whirled a cudgel aloft and brought it crashing on the fish – as he did so one of his lines tautened and with an oath he clutched at it and struck hard – but no solid fighting weight rewarded his effort.

“Too quick and too hard,” said Jansen reprovingly, “like dis you must do,” and the skipper once again striking began to haul hand over hand.

The boat, however, was beginning to ship a lot of water and the weather was becoming wild and stormy. Again and again, curling waves broke against or over the boat until Jansen regretfully gave the order to haul up the anchor.




From Boatsheds to Battlefields 7 The Untamed Wildness

As I have been typing the story I have come to realise that Grandad borrowed names and I believe he may have blended first and last names, he calls himself Mick Osborne. I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank family, friends, and friends of family and their ancestors who have played a part in Bernard Leffler’s autobiography and his life. 

End of 6th Entry from the original:


From here there are pages missing in the original and rewrites of the opening chapter in the typed manuscript with scattered page numbering.


I was born beneath the immense grey walls of that flat-topped Table of the Gods which is set beside the blue waters that cap the old town first begun by Van Riebeeck and his sturdy Hollanders.

From boyhood I grew up amongst tales and traditions of gallant East Indian men, Portuguese, Dutch, and English, of flight and cattle, of Hottentot and wild coast – of the ships and frigates of France, England, and Holland which had cast anchor or run out the gun in our Great Bay.  I grew up a dreamer dwelling in a world of shadows, of ships o’ the line, caravels and mighty cluff (clough) bowed merchantmen.

Myself of an ancient family of Holland on the one side, of an adventurous Scandinavian on the other related by blood and marriage to a score of old Dutch, Irish and Huguenot families I had a great wall of legend and history to climb before I entered the world of those whose people have but newly come to our portion of the Cape.

Old manners, old furniture, old names, grey old world houses and a crumbling vault – a tiny world of bygone days and customs was where I spent my childhood days.

Always in my ears thundered the Atlantic surf breaking on a cruel rocky shore – ever in the eyes was the looming bulk of the Table overshadowing the crouching mass of the Lion Hill with its steep heather and sage-covered sides crowned by the stern crags and cliffs of Lion’s Head.

All boyhood memories are tangled up with mountain wall, brushed hillside, granite shores, the heave of the sea and its breaking fury or wooing loveliness, woodland of sombre pine, glen of silver poplar and green oak – the howl of the mountain wind and the sullen murmur of the Ocean.

I went to school – to a great school half hidden by surrounding oaks and gardens, standing well away from the noise and bustle of the city. A school whose children have writ their names not only on Africa’s scroll of honour but through the world. Politicians, soldiers, priests, scholars, and sportsmen are richly represented and college and school combined it nestled under the rampart of the great grey mountain and looked down on the ship crowded Bay giving its sons ever a vision of far-off  lands, of tempests fought and won, of heights to be surmounted, of ways up, across or over seemingly impossible.

And from my classroom to the great neglect of Caesar, Ovid, Euclid and other ancients my mind everlastingly pondered on the view set before the wide-open windows. Mighty cliff, the silver thread of mountain torrent, huge awful buttresses, jutting pinnacle, dark gloomy gorge and pleasantly wooded glen.

As I look ever and aye the untamed wildness called and longingly and full of craving my soul flung its answer to the rocks and corries, to the woods and glens.

Always the mountain called, but mingled with the sagas wafted from the stern walls so often all but buried in eddying, whirling mist, stung and gashed by cruel maddened howling wind came another song – the salt-tinged spray and limitless horizon in its call – the hymn of the sea and I listened.

Freely have they given their joys, fully have they taken me for their own. In all their moods, their anger and their pleasures have I shared. Much have I given them but more have they lavished on me. greatly have I suffered through them the joys they have given me repay. Nor yet have they finished with me nor yet do I grudge them my service.

My vow of dedication has brought me hunger and thirst, rough fare, coarse living, led me to sickness and hurt, plunged me to depths of fear and horror, raised me to the topmost heights of joy and glory in feeling and winning of a man’s victory through manhood’s powers.

I have lain crushed and torn crying for Death to release me from hurt and I have sung a song of glory in the wonder of the mad gallop over ridge and slope, of the gale-driven craft tearing her way through wave and squall, flinging from her bows the green smashed water and wandering through the wild of mountain and forest and ocean.

It has given me to meet many a gallant man and fair maid and noble mother, some of gentle birth, some of the people all of the stock of the mother from whom sprung Hengist and Horsa, Rollo Hereward, the Crusaders, the Elizabethans, the Cavaliers and Jacobites, the men of Nelson and Wellington and all the countless host of hero and heroine who fill the pages of Britain’s weal and woe.



From Boatsheds to Battlefields 6 On Women and Religion

End of 5th Entry: As the two lunched Bertie looking at their spoil remarked “What are you going to do with your flowers, Mick? You haven’t got a girl.”

“If I had I wouldn’t be giving them to her. I want them myself. I like flowers and so do Dad and the Mater. Think I’d bally well give Disas to a girl? Not much!

Old Jack reckons women are a necessary evil. Get keen on them and it’s all up with a chap. They’re like snakes. I know a chap that makes pets of snakes. Well he plays with them and likes them and some are jolly pretty but he has to be jolly careful or they’ll turn on him. Girls are like that or like a kitten – she plays nicely as long as you do, but if you get tired or don’t keep giving her things, she scratches.

Old Muhammad Abdul, he’s old and he has been to Mecca – he’s a Hadji and can handle a boat better than anyone in the world – well if he doesn’t know about girls who does? He’s had ten wives and has scores of children – he told me the Holy Prophet said God only made girls to be playthings when young and to be workers when old.

Old Jack says the same and he has sailed round the Horn and been in the South Sea Islands.

Abdul he says girls are made to give men enjoyment and women to work for men and ease their lives – the Prophet said so and he reckoned women and girls didn’t go to Heaven, they just died, bar the prettiest and they were taken to Heaven to minister to the wants of men. I reckon Muhammad was a darn good man and made a fine religion.

The Christian religion is all ‘You mustn’t do this and you mustn’t do that’. I reckon the parsons have made it all quite different to what Christ wanted. He was always chums with the fishermen and publicans and sinners and if this religion was like the Christian religion today none of the fishing crowd would have followed him.

I like the old Norse religion too – Thor and Odin and their crowd had a good religion. I feel darn sorry for the old jarls and Vikings in the Sagas being driven into the North and killed by the followers of the White Christ (term used by the Vikings because the converts wore white robes). I reckon the Vikings, Moors, and Aztecs were a better crowd than the Portuguese and Spaniards.

All the crowds had civilizations without Christianity and they stuck to their religions. I reckon the Catholics were right to have the Inquisition. If a nation has a religion all the crowd that isn’t true to it ought to be tortured – only its got to be a proper religion where everybody knows what are the rules of it like the Catholics.

Bertie looked at Mick in a worried fashion – “Why on earth do you keep thinking about deep things like religion, Mick? No other fellow of our age does.”

Well, sailors and fishermen and mountain folk do. The Malays are always talking about the Prophet and the Koran, and sailors talk about God; not like Sunday School people, but wondering what God’s like and whether he takes into consideration Jack’s hard life, or whether he’s like a Yankee Skipper with Gabriel and Michael and St Peter (Peter, a Jewish fisherman, was called to be a disciple of Jesus at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry) as mates and boatswain. Most reckon they’ll get a square deal up loft but skippers and mates and bo’suns and shipowners they’ll get chucked into Hell. Well, let’s get moving.”

“Let’s get out on the side of the Window first,” replied Bertie and swinging on their rucksacks they made off down the stream by which they had camped. A hundred yards and they paused – the tiny burn dropped over into a huge cleft of incredible savagery – wild rocks, great precipices dripping water with nowhere a possible route to be seen.

Thousands of feet below lay a wonderful view of the Indian Ocean, its long rollers breaking against the white beach of Muizenberg – All False Bay backed by its mighty mountain ranges lay before them – just under was the famous Constantia Valley with its ancient Dutch Homesteads, its vineyards and orchards and the beautiful suburbs of Cape Town below.

A while they gazed awestruck at the immensity of it all, then turned to once again continue their tramp.


From Boatsheds to Battlefields 5 What are you going to do with your flowers?

End of 4th Entry: Once out of the gorge the boys set off at a fast swinging walk back to the tunnel top from where they continued on eastwards once again spreading out in search of flowers.

Once out of the gorge the boys set off at a fast swinging walk back to the tunnel top from where they continued on eastwards once again spreading out to search for flowers.

Turning to the South the lads, still picking an occasional flower, worked up to where the Disa Valley, dammed in two places by stupendous stone walls, formed two blue lochs.

Backed to the East by the mass of heather and bracken-covered hill which formed the back of Table Mountain, a tiny moor flanked the West and North, the head of a glen filled with pines bounding the Southern end; the two great reservoirs which supplied Cape Town with water presented as wild and beautiful a sight as any Scottish mountain scene.

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Woodhead Dam

Passing over the hundred and the twenty-foot wall of the Woodhead Reservoir Mick and Bertie worked the moorland to the West until they came to the pines. Regaining the path they passed a little white beach on which the blue wavelets broke playfully, then striding outreached the head of Skeleton Gorge.

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Leaving the path the boys struck up a brae face and began to reap a good harvest of red crassula and cluster disas until coming over the braehead they arrived at Window Gorge.

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At the shelter, rucksacks were again discarded and a fire made. Both lads were now beginning to feel the heavy tramping and climbing. Blackened, sodden with sweat, scratched and muscle weary they thankfully lay basking in the sun too weary to unpack food or feel inclined for it.

“It’s a queer thing now,” remarked Mick “how girls spoil everything. If we had had girls with us we wouldn’t have had any fun. Just walking on the paths talking silly rot. It’s the same with a boat – have a girl in her and the day’s wasted. If there’s a wind you’ve got to reef down and watch other chaps carrying full sail. I hate girls and fellows that are always mucking around with them.”

Bertie grinned – “You’re a queer lad Mick – all you Boatshed mob are like a crowd of heathen – girls are all right – better than a lot of Malays and half-caste and sinful old white men that have been in gaol. Man, your brothers and sisters must feel rotten when they see low fishermen and flower sellers greeting you.”

“Then they’re blooming snobs – the fishermen and flower sellers always take off their hats and say Sir in the streets. They’ve got darn sight better manners than the stiffs one meets all dressed up. They’re men not blooming stiffs that sit writing and tallying figures all their lives. Chaps that play tennis and walk about with girls – that’s not life man Bertie.”

Flowers seller, Adderley Street, Cape Town. Franco Frescura Collection.

“A chap isn’t a milksop if he plays tennis or walks about with girls – if he doesn’t he’s low and a disgrace to his family and he’s sure to end up poor and looked down on – ends his life sitting in a corner getting the family’s scraps and cast off clothes – a chap must be steady and work his way up otherwise he will be a burden or have to join the Salvation Army or go into a home or be like old George, or old Bowman doing odd jobs and getting drunk – all your sailors and soldiers and other chaps that aren’t steady end up that way.

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Night watchmen, porters, doorkeepers and so on – look at Smith and Williams, they were at Oxford and are of a good family yet roving around has landed them with the Malays.”

Image result for Malay Cape Town 1900sWomen and children from Cape Malay circa 1900

Mick grunted, “Heaps of respectable people end up badly and lots of adventurous people get rich and powerful its just if one gets a chance and grabs it.”

“That’s all rot! Let’s get coffee made.”

As the two lunched Bertie looking at their spoil remarked “What are you going to do with your flowers Mick? You haven’t got a girl.”